Further vs. Farther: Which one is it?

How much further do you have to go before you finish your manuscript? Or, wait—writerly distraction—is it how much farther? How much farther do you have to go before you finish your manuscript? I’m so confused. In case you are too, here’s Grammar Girl Mignon Fogarty to the rescue:

“Further” Versus “Farther”

The quick and dirty tip is to use “farther” for physical distance and “further” for metaphorical, or figurative, distance. It’s easy to remember because “farther” has the word “far” in it, and“far” obviously relates to physical distance.

For example, imagine Squiggly and Aardvark are flying to a galaxy far, far away, but Squiggly gets bored and starts mercilessly bugging Aardvark. “How much farther?'” he keeps asking in despair.”

Did you hear that? Squiggly used “farther” because he was asking about physical distance.

If Aardvark gets frustrated with Squiggly, which he surely will, he could respond, “If you complain further, I’m going to shoot you out the airlock.”

Aardvark used “further” because he isn’t talking about physical distance, he’s talking about a figurative distance: the extent of Squiggly’s complaining.

More “Further” Versus “Farther” Tips

If you can’t decide which one to use, you’re safer using further because farther has some restrictions.

Sometimes the quick and dirty tip doesn’t work because it’s hard to decide whether you’re talking about physical distance. For example, Lisa asked about the sentence “I’m further along in my book than you are in yours.” You could think of it as a physical distance through the pages and use “farther,” or as a figurative distance through the story and use “further.”

And what if you stop someone in the middle of a sentence to interject something? Do you say “before we go any further,” or “before we go any farther”?

The good news is that in ambiguous cases it doesn’t matter which word you choose. Although careful writers will try to stick with the distinction between “further” and “farther,” the Oxford English Dictionary, Fowler’s Modern English Usage, and a number of other sources say that, in most cases, it’s fine to use “further” and “farther” interchangeably, especially when the distinction isn’t clear. People have been using them interchangeably for hundreds of years, and a few experts don’t even follow the distinction. For example, Garner’s Modern American Usage notes that in British English, although it’s more common for speakers to use “farther” for physical distance, they will regularly use either “further” or “farther” for figurative distance (1).

How to Use “Furthermore”

It is important to remember that “farther” has a tie to physical distance and can’t be used to mean “moreover” or “in addition.”

We’re nearly out of fuel. Further, there’s an asteroid belt ahead.

A trick I use is to write “furthermore” when I mean “in addition.”

Furthermore, I hope you locked the door when we left.

“Furthermore” is different enough from “further” to keep me from confusing it with “farther.”

History

Finally, if you’re interested in the history of usage, “further” is the older word and according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage (2), it was 1906 when the first usage guide called on writers to make a distinction between “further” and “farther.”

Quick and Dirty Tip

The quick and dirty tip is that “farther” relates to physical distance and “further”  relates to figurative distance. If you can’t decide which one to use, you’re safer using “further” because “farther” has some restrictions, and if you tend to get confused, try using “furthermore” instead of “further.”


References
1. Garner, B. Garner’s Modern American Usage, 3rd Edition. Oxford University Press, 2009, p. 346.
2. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage. Springfield: Merriam-Webster, 1994, p. 430.

Source:  Fogarty, Mignon. “Further versus Farther.” Web blog post. Quick and Dirty Tips. Grammar Girl, 22 April 2010. Web. 12 April 2016.

 

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